Friday, September 30, 2005

Trying to Write "Beauty Way"

Let's call it "Beauty Way" for starters. That is its working title. It's about my rockhounding and hiking and other experiences out west with Brian and everyone, except that there is a problem with the book that I have to figure out. I'm a white Jewish woman writing stories that include Navajos and I really fear that Indian writers and Indian non-writers won't like it.

What happened was that when I began the book, I wanted a protagonist in the story to resemble my dear adopted Dineh Shizhee. I love him and wanted that part of the book to be about his life and all the good things, the beautyway that he has shown me. The book is a novel, so it is a takeoff on my Navajo dad and does not resemble him in totality. My problems started after I was part way through with the book and had a real life dilemma with another tribal relation whose characterization set the story flowing in a new direction and I cannot not eliminate him as he is one of the main characters of my book.

So, my angst is that some characters in "Beauty Way" are Indians who do not live up to the "white person concept" of what a tribal person represents-the 4 directions, the Mother Earth Father Sky thing, and at the same time, the real characterizations may be offensive to indigenous peoples. I may be upsetting everyone, so, what do I do, Sherman?

Now, Indian writers can write anything they want to about Indians, all the stuff, good and bad. They can write about alcoholic Indians and lost Indians and those who have become estranged from their language and their brothers and sisters on the reservation. Their families and friends may get really miffed but they still won't think of their tribal brother as anti-Indian but I am afraid that I as a white woman will incur the rancor of Indians, especially the Indians who are my adopted relations and friends.

I am allowed to write humorous truisms about Jews, the same way Jackie Mason does, and by the same rule, no one else is allowed to write nasty things about Jews who isn't Jewish. That means Indians can't write jokes about Jews either. If MSNBC's Chris Matthews tells a Jewish joke, he'll be looked upon with disfavor even though he is allowed to rank out George W. and Veep.

So, I've been writing "Beauty Way" for about 4 years now. Probably right now, I am on the third rewrite and I still have trepidations about its pending, no impending(as in disaster)publication, the critics, the book signings and all the scary stuff. I never had to worry about all this with the UFO book in 1994, but things have changed now. It's all about showing your face so they can throw darts(or green obsidian arrowheads) at you.

This week I'm writing a story about how you can look more beautiful for the January 2006 issue of "Ocean Drive Magazine" which is the big beauty issue. It has nothing to do with the real "Beauty Way" that I should be writing, but it is a great distraction. I am trying to work through my dilemma with a talented Indian artist who somewhere in the last eight years decided to make me his sister. He believes in the book and maybe that is enough to help get me through my fears.I promised myself that the final draft of "Beauty Way" will be ready by May 1st or I can't go rockhounding this year. Sounds fair, but what do I do for the summer?